A major challenge for biology is to extend our understanding of molecular regulation from the simplified conditions of the laboratory to ecologically relevant environments. Tractable examples are essential to make these connections for complex, pleiotropic regulators and, to go further, to link relevant genome sequences to field traits. Here, I review the case for the biological clock in higher plants. The gene network of the circadian clock drives pervasive, 24-hour rhythms in metabolism, behavior, and physiology across the eukaryotes and in some prokaryotes. In plants, the scope of chronobiology is now extending from the most tractable, intracellular readouts to the clock's many effects at the whole-organism level and across the life cycle, including biomass and flowering. I discuss five research areas where recent progress might be integrated in the future, to understand not only circadian functions in natural conditions but also the evolution of the clock's molecular mechanisms.


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